Zappos Takes Action On Sustainability With Carbon Offset Purchases

Earth Day has recently passed, but Zappos is seeking to make an impact toward promoting sustainability that goes beyond a single date. Through the implementation of a carbon offset purchase program, Zappos will mitigate more than 6.8 million miles of company air travel in 2016.

The process of carbon offsetting enables organizations to finance essential renewable energy, forestry and resource conservation projects globally that can generate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. While retailers may be limited in how they can carry out green initiatives on their own compared to industries such as manufacturing, carbon offsetting enables these companies to work with third parties dedicated to serious environmental causes.

Zappos has partnered with Natural Capital Partners to support three forestry/biodiversity projects:


  • The Mississippi Valley Reforestation Project;

  • The Valdivian Coastal Reserve Avoided Deforestation Project in Chile; and

  • The Acre Amazonian Rainforest Conservation Project in Brazil.

Acknowledging And Owning Its Carbon Footprint

Zappos began its project to calculate its entire carbon footprint last year, when its travel team began posting carbon data from corporate air travel on the internal web page for all employees to see. Working with the results of companywide carbon usage, Brad Tomm, the retailer’s Director of Sustainability, collaborated with Head of Travel Mark Spencer to create a proposal designed to take responsibility for the company’s carbon emissions. In conjunction with the Brand Aura department, both the Sustainability and Travel teams at Zappos were able to launch the carbon offsetting program.

“This is a very small slice of our entire carbon footprint, but a big step forward for us to learn about carbon offsets and become comfortable with them,” said Tomm in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It’s a great step forward in maybe one day becoming 100% carbon neutral.”

The corporate travel carbon offset program is Zappos’ first large purchase of carbon offsets.

“Corporate travel is something that you can’t really do much to change operationally,” Tomm noted. “You can try to reduce travel, which we have through more Skype meetings and phone calls, and we travel pretty responsibly already with carpooling and flying economy. But at the end of the day, you have a carbon footprint for travel. The thought was, let’s just own up to it, take responsibility and take ownership of our carbon footprint and sponsor a few really cool projects.”

The Ultimate Goal: Taking Zappos 100% Carbon Neutral

Tomm described his initial pitch to take Zappos 100% carbon neutral as “swinging for the fences, and trying to hit a grand slam.” However, the pitch received little enthusiasm at first. People within the company weren’t familiar with carbon offsets and hadn’t worked with these sorts of projects before. Upon getting rejected, Tomm went back to the drawing board to refocus his plan.

“When I found Mark, who had great data on corporate travel — which was key to getting the right price tag and right amount of carbon offsets — we took a step back and went ahead and hit a single,” Tomm stated. “Now, what we’re doing is using the small demonstration project to really build enthusiasm and excitement again for larger projects, and I think it’s working.”

To rally the rest of the Zappos team, Tomm, Spencer and Brand Aura “Fungineer” Tyler Williams decided to make the carbon offset program announcement via a YouTube video. The video was produced by a hired film crew, edited by the Zappos audio/visual team, and serves as a PSA to the retailer’s employees to “Travel Responsibly.” The video highlights the three forestry projects in Mississippi, Chile and Brazil to raise awareness of the campaign.

“We all felt so passionate about this project that we wanted to do it justice through making the movie and then putting it out to the public as well,” Tomm stated. “We put a call-to-action at the end of the movie for viewers to send ideas to to be transparent about this, and solicit feedback from employees as well as customers. That was cool to see even more groups get involved in the storytelling of the project. We wanted to demonstrate to other companies that ‘we can do this, and so can you,’ and build a comfort level within our own company that this was a fun project that works.”

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